Firing an employee is never easy.
But when the employee has developed close, personal relationships with customers, the termination task becomes even more difficult. All it takes is one misstep to severely damage your company's relationships with key accounts and sales targets.
In many cases, employers unintentionally create scenarios that leave the business vulnerable when an influential employee is terminated. Good business owners encourage their workers to nurture relationships with customers. But if the employee's relationship with the customer is exclusive, the customer's loyalty may shift from the company to the employee.
So when it comes to the termination of key staff, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. The more you can do to inoculate your company from the effects of termination now, the fewer consequences your business will suffer should it become necessary to release an employee that customers love.
- Identify risk. The first step in terminating an influential employee is to evaluate your exposure. Firing an important employee may mean more than just losing a big client. If the client is influential with other clients, you may need to perform damage control for a large segment of your customer base.
- Implement a termination strategy. Never fire an influential employee on the spot. You need time to devise a termination strategy that minimizes the impact on your customers and your business. Attach strings to the severance package, prohibiting the terminated employee from having any contact with customers and be prepared to take preventative action with key accounts.
- Diversify customer contacts. It's suicide to rely on a single employee to service a major account. A team-based approach diversifies the contacts your business has with customers and minimizes the impact a terminated employee can have on your customer base.
- Contact customers directly. Within 24 hours, contact senior leaders at the employee's major accounts to tell them what has happened and how you will service their account going forward. Be prepared to address customer concerns and to introduce customers to their new account rep.
- Talk about the future. Conversations with the senior leaders at major accounts can be great opportunities to talk about new products or service offerings. By directing the conversation toward the future of your relationship, you can downplay the impact of the termination and generate fresh enthusiasm for the partnership.